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With Crist out for the season, Rees steps up

Mike Gotimer | Monday, November 1, 2010

Almost a year to the day after tearing his ACL, Dayne Crist once again found himself being helped off the field with a serious knee injury.

Crist was hurt in the first quarter of Saturday’s 28-27 loss to Tulsa. With three games left in the season, the Irish will now turn to freshman Tommy Rees to call signals with the hope that Notre Dame can win two of the next three and earn an invite to a bowl game.

Crist went down when Tulsa linebacker Tanner Antle knocked him out of bounds after a 29-yard scramble on Notre Dame’s second possession. Crist immediately grabbed his left knee after the play, and Irish coach Brian Kelly confirmed Sunday that Crist underwent surgery to repair a torn patella tendon in his left knee. Kelly said Crist could be out for up to six months with the injury, which may rule him out for Notre Dame’s spring practice.

When talking to Crist, Kelly said he tried to encourage his quarterback, reminding him of how well he recovered from his previous knee injury.

“I talked to him last night and I told him, essentially, sometimes we look for answers and sometimes there are no answers,” Kelly said. “Sometimes accidents occur. The second thing I said is you’ve been through this before. You don’t want to go through it again, but at least you’ve already exhibited the strength to get through this.”

While losing Crist is undoubtedly a tough blow for the Irish, Rees filled in admirably against the Golden Hurricane and showed that he is a much different quarterback than the one who threw an interception on his first ever collegiate pass in Notre Dame’s 28-24 loss to Michigan on Sept. 11. Despite the interception he threw on Notre Dame’s last offensive play, Rees did tally 334 yards and four touchdowns on the day.

When asked about the play of his true freshman quarterback, Kelly only needed one word to respond.

“Awesome,” Kelly said. “I couldn’t be more happy for the kid. True freshman going out there, hasn’t played. He just competes. Took some big hits, got right back up. I don’t know if he knew where he was a couple of times. He’s a competitive kid — he loves to play.”

When Rees took over in the first quarter with Notre Dame trailing 7-0, he quickly directed the offense down the field, capping off the drive with his first career touchdown pass on a 10-yard completion to junior receiver Michael Floyd. He also zipped passes through tight windows between defenders with regularity, most notably on a 4-yard touchdown pass to Floyd midway through the second quarter.

Since Rees’ debut in the Michigan game, Kelly knew that he needed to prepare his backups should they need to lead the offense in the future. He particularly emphasized throwing the ball, and he was satisfied with Rees’ passing abilities on Saturday.

“Throwing the ball is where he’s at,” Kelly said. “That’s what he does well. He gets the ball out of his hands. He reads things. [He] couldn’t do everything we wanted to do. I don’t even know what the numbers are — we’ve got to score more points, but I love the way the kid competed.”

After the game, Rees praised his coaches and fellow quarterbacks for helping him improve since his first appearance in the Michigan game. He said that Crist in particular helped him raise his game.

“That all comes with how the coaches prepared me, Dayne’s input,” Rees said. “This time I was really ready to step up.

“[Dayne] just kept telling me, keep pushing, keep working, how proud of me he was. He really helped me tremendously, more than anyone else. Having him behind you like that, he helped me a lot.”

Although Rees gained much-needed confidence with his performance on Saturday, he still feels that he needs to be there for his teammates.

“I just want to be there for my teammates,” Rees said. “Obviously, [the game] didn’t end up how we wanted to. I gained some confidence. I think the team has some confidence in me now. [We] just try to keep pushing forward, [we] just got to keep pushing and get prepared for Utah.”

In the end, Rees was somewhat critical of his own play, but he realized that he kept his team in the game and that all was not lost.

“You know, I’m not happy with the last play or a couple of plays there in the middle of the game and such,” Rees said. “But, you know, I’m pretty pleased with how I performed going out there.”